Marketing Briefing: ‘Delta variant has thrown a curve ball at business travel’: Marketers, agency execs predict hybrid events will remain this fall

The header shows a person in a mask sitting on a couch.

This Marketing Briefing covers the latest in marketing for Digiday+ members and is distributed over email every Tuesday at 10 a.m. ET. More from the series →

Much like the return to offices, marketers and agency execs expected return to business travel and conferences this fall will be delayed and/or retooled due to the surging delta variant. 

That’s not to say in-person meetings won’t occur — they’ve been happening for some vaccinated folks since the spring — but that the return to normalcy when it comes to business travel is once again delayed. With the delta variant on the rise and mask mandates returning, it’s unlikely agencies and brands will want employees schmoozing at large in-person events, especially those without proof of vaccination required. 

“The delta variant has thrown a curve ball at business travel and return to office,” said one agency exec. “Everything is being pushed back a few months. And I wouldn’t be surprised if we stayed home-bound through the rest of 2021.” 

It’s unclear how many events marketers and agency execs will attend in-person this fall, but it likely won’t be the massive return to in-person many were expecting. Last week, VidCon canceled its 2021 conference, telling its attendees that the next one would be slated for June 2022. CES sent out a note telling potential attendees that vaccinations will be required. And major industry events like Advertising Week and the ANA’s Masters of Marketing are touting a hybrid approach of in-person and virtual on their sites. 

“Much like everyone else, we’re taking a wait-and-see approach, but prioritizing industry events that are a fit for us,” said Glenn Ginsburg, svp of global partnerships at QYOU Media. “We were confirmed to participate in VidCon on a panel and, due the content and audience, prioritized being there in-person. We’re still open to event attendance and participation across the board where it makes sense. But we’re making sure that anything we consider has a hybrid element and/or a COVID-contingency plan.”

Maintaining that hybrid element to events this fall will be the norm. “Event planners need a greater willingness to experiment,” said Lucas Piazza, CMO of production shop QuickFrame. “The fact remains that events/conferences are an important part of business development activities and so we are trying to find ways to make them work in our favor. This includes being more open to ‘virtual’ content presentations and meetings whereas 18 months ago we wouldn’t be.” 

One former agency exec noted that the events industry will likely keep a close eye on what’s happening with in-person entertainment and concerts. If those continue through the fall — most concerts require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test and tend to take place outdoors — the exec predicts that in-person conferences will continue.

“It’ll be weird if people are comfortable going to concerts but not to conferences,” said the exec. 

3 Questions with Drift CMO Tricia Gellman

As COVID-19 cases go back up, what impact will that have on your team’s plans to return to the office?

We continue to follow the CDC guidelines for in-office activity, as well as any local government decisions. That said, our plans are not impacted dramatically by rising cases because in February 2021, Drift made the decision to go digital first. This means remote work will be our primary experience, and Drift’s offices in Boston, Tampa and San Francisco will be used as conversation spaces with Zoom broadcast studios and collaborative meeting rooms, but no permanent desks for individuals. This allows employees to utilize the space in a way that they are comfortable with while choosing the best setup for their own productivity.

Tell us a bit more about your digital first approach.

We decided to take a digital first approach based on the needs of our employees and our goal to provide equal experiences for every team member at all times. We realized that the future of work would never be the same, and many of our employees wanted the flexibility to move further away from our office locations. In addition, our founders, David Cancel and Elias Torres, previously experienced inequity when working in hybrid environments. They saw that the people in the office received different treatment than those who were remote. With this in mind, we were thoughtful about creating a balanced work environment, no matter the location.

There were a lot of lessons learned for remote work during the pandemic. Any lessons your team learned that you’ll keep post-pandemic?

The biggest lesson the pandemic taught us is that our people are the most important asset we have. Our founders have often said that our success is 98% people and 2% product. We’re passionate about leading with empathy and feel that it’s imperative for our company’s leaders to put in extra time to unify our teams, even while remote. This means being thoughtful as we make decisions for the company and taking pulse checks as needed to determine what’s working for everyone and what we can improve upon. — Kimeko McCoy

By the numbers

It’s no secret that brands are willing to spend big on social media advertising. And as more platforms like Snapchat, Pinterest and TikTok rise to challenge Facebook, advertisers have more options to make the most of their ad dollars. So how are brands currently spending on social? A new study from BrandTotal, an intelligence tool that tracks social media ads, breaks it down. Here are the key data points:

  • Nike dominates, with the highest % of paid social ad impressions in the industry (20%). To compare, Adidas sits at 12%, H&M 11%, Old Navy 6%, and Savage X Fenty 5%.
  • Givenchy, Converse, Asos and Ralph Lauren ran most of their ads on Instagram. Meanwhile, YouTube was #1 for Under Armor, Gucci, Lululemon, Uniqlo, and Zara.
  • Most fashion brands targeted younger audiences with social marketing. Gucci aimed 60% of its ads at 18-24. For Burberry, it was 80%. Others trended older. Over half (51%) of Ralph Lauren ads were for those 35-44. — Kimeko McCoy

Quote of the week

“On TikTok, there’s less of an expectation that you need to have the perfectly manicured aesthetic that major cities provide to content on platforms like Instagram. That coupled with the simple fact that it has been harder to get to N.Y.C. or L.A., gave rise to creators in all areas of the U.S.”

— Katy Wellhousen, account director of social and influence 160over90, a cultural marketing agency owned by Endeavor, when asked about TikTok creator collaboration diversifying outside of N.Y.C. and L.A.

What we’ve covered

More in Marketing

Beyond the rosé: Navigating Cannes Lions as a sober attendee

For some, the constant flow of booze and cocktails is all part of the schmoozing that comes with Cannes Lions. Others, however, may be looking for a Cannes Lions experience sans alcohol. Here’s how to do it.

While Meta, X step back from publishers, TikTok sees them as an opportunity

While it’s still early days, TikTok is at the very least showing its intention toward publishers, by making them more of a priority and increasing monetization opportunities.

Research Briefing: Meetings and dealmaking are top of mind for execs headed to Cannes

In this edition of the Digiday+ Research Briefing, we examine how meetings and dealmaking are top of mind for ad industry professionals as they head to Cannes, how LinkedIn’s Wire Program may yield new ad revenue for publishers, and how OpenAI continues to sign content licensing and tech development deals with publishers, as seen in recent data from Digiday+ Research.